Property Management

How multifamily can help end human trafficking

By Stephanie Anderson

It’s an issue that has long existed, but even as we advance as a society, the problem of human trafficking never ceases, and lately, the problem has seen a troubling increase.

“Multifamily operators are in a unique position to spot some of the signs of human trafficking and make a difference in people’s lives by doing something about it,’ said Ellen Clark, senior director of content at Grace Hill. 

Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. There are more than 21 million trafficking victims worldwide and more than 70% of them are women and girls.

“You’ve probably come in contact with a victim of human trafficking sometime in your life,” said Mariana Loboguerrero, co-executive director at iEmpathize. “You may have spoken to someone in a bakery, a nail salon or a child has come to your door selling magazines. So, in many cases, we have come in contact with a (labor) trafficking victim.”

As part of their partnership, representatives from Grace Hill and iEmpathize held a webinar to explore the issue and expand education on human trafficking for members of the multifamily community. Grace Hill also released an e-book companion to the webinar that touches on the issue, the signs and what to do.

Understanding and identifying human trafficking

To properly identify human trafficking, it’s necessary to understand what it is. There are several  misconceptions about human trafficking, and one of them is that it’s the same as human smuggling, which is moving people across borders. Human trafficking is the exploitation of a person and doesn’t require geographical changes to be present.

Trafficking is not about whether a person is being paid a fair wage for their work. It involves the use of intimidation and force to perform work against their will. Traffickers also use physical and sexual abuse as a means of additional control. There are three types of trafficking:

  • Child sex trafficking – using force, fraud or coercion to induce another to sell sex.
  • Adult sex trafficking – inducing another to sell sex but does not require force, fraud or coercion to be present. Distinction is used to eliminate the concept of a “child prostitute.”
  • Labor trafficking – using force, fraud or coercion to induce a person to provide work or services.

Trafficking is a crime that affects people regardless of their socioeconomic status, religion, culture, ethnicity or gender, so there is no “type” of person to seek out. The same goes for traffickers. Both come from all walks of life, so identification of trafficking relies more on situations and behavior that may be abnormal. The presence of these signs does not necessarily mean trafficking is present, but they do raise red flags. If an onsite team member witnesses them, it’s best to take the proper action.

Living situation – Look for too many people living in an apartment, interior locks designed to keep people from leaving, and poor living conditions or multiple mattresses on the floor. If there is a high volume of traffic to the unit with short visits taking place, this could also be an identifier.

Actions and activity – One of the first indications of possible trafficking is if the person in control inquires about security cameras and their locations. If you see a group of people leaving an apartment and then returning later and this occurs every day, that can be a sign. It’s also important to watch for the actions of the victims. If they deflect questions to another person, are unable to produce documents or are never allowed to be alone, these are all red flags.

Behavior and demeanor – Someone who is trafficked may be timid, nervous, and refuse to make eye contact. They might become anxious if law enforcement is mentioned or nearby. Physically, trafficking victims may appear to be abused, malnourished, tired or in need of mental care. Also look for someone unaware of their location, unfamiliar with the people they’re with and conversations that are scripted and rehearsed.

In multifamily, there is a need for companies and property teams to look at the labor performing contracted work on their properties. Construction and landscaping are just two of the numerous industries where trafficking victims are present.

“Awareness is a gift, and it truly is when it comes to a situation as dire as any type of trafficking,” said Lori Agudo, director of training and talent for Royal American Management.

How to address human trafficking

Grace Hill’s in-depth training course examines human trafficking, how it affects multifamily communities and the steps to address it. More than 71,000 courses have been taken by multifamily associates so far. If the onsite teams at a community spot suspicious activity or have information regarding human trafficking, they can call 888.373.7888 (TTY:711) or SMS text to 233733.

While employees may not always be comfortable with trafficking and reporting, owner/operators should have a system where onsite individuals can reach out to someone within the company regarding possible trafficking.

Multifamily alone won’t solve the problem of human trafficking, but the industry can make a vital contribution toward reaching that goal. Through proper training and a better understanding of the issues and the signs, the industry can help alleviate the suffering of some of the millions of victims of this growing tragedy.

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